Jessica Powell, the former Google vice president who wrote The Big Disruption and told you how to quit your job, is here to answer your common but tricky work questions. Check back every other week for more management advice with a tech inflection.
I work with people who are inconsistently motivated, not particularly high-performing and not possible to get rid of. Sometimes I assume the worst, get frustrated, and am an asshole. But I would like to be a better human. How can I work effectively and without arrogance (clearly I struggle with this) with people of different levels of motivation and performance? In other words, how can I stop being an asshole to idiots?
Obviously, the first step is to not think of these people as idiots, because that’s a matter of opinion — they probably think you’re pretty stupid, too (or at least a jerk!).
Most likely, these “inconsistently motivated” co-workers are not idiots, but rather have different priorities than you. It may also be the case that they don’t feel inclined to go the extra mile because no one is communicating to them — through good pay or proper recognition — that their work is important.
I’m assuming from your question that you are not in charge and have no levers to pull with regards to pay. And the fact that these employees are “hard to dislodge” makes me think you might work in the public sector, or are in a large, bureaucratic corporation where your feedback doesn’t matter.
But almost everyone, in any company, is able to influence how a job is recognized.
Rather than assume that someone is incompetent, instead try to think about what motivates them.
By “recognition,” I don’t mean you have to bring in a birthday cake on a particular day, or send everyone “Great Work!” cards after they hand you a stack of files. Rather, I would encourage you to think of ways you can demonstrate to these employees that their work matters to you, and has a broader impact on the organization.